Monday, July 20, 2009

Goobledygook Perfected: Berkowitz on Levin

The Weekly Standard has published a long, hard to follow review of Mark Levin’s Liberty and Tyranny by Peter Berkowitz, senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.

I’m not going to deal with Liberty and Tyranny. But Berkowitz's review is as fine a piece of gobbledygook, if not double-speak, as I’ve read in a long time. It's important in showing the result of some conservative thought at university level and perhaps why conservatives do so poorly there.

Berkowitz’s thesis is that a real conservative needs to be moderate. Huh?

Here’s how Berkowitz begins the discussion on what being a moderate means:
"In a May interview, talk show host Scott Hennen asked Dick Cheney whether Arlen Specter's defection to the Democrats proved that Colin Powell was correct, that "the Republican party needs to moderate." Cheney opined that "it would be a mistake for us to moderate," tantamount to betraying fundamental conservative commitment to "the Constitution and constitutional principles" and a craven embrace of Democratic positions and ideas."
. . .
"The moderation [Powell] commended was inclusiveness, or openness to a range of policy positions resting, presumably, on a shared sensibility and core convictions. But he also made a point about electoral politics: Without a determined effort to reach out to independents, conservatives and Republicans are doomed to long-term minority status because the number of those identifying as Republicans has plunged while the number of those identifying as independents has surged."

Berkowitz does an intellectual sleight of hand here. This discussion is not about Republicans. It is about conservatives and conservative principles. The number of those describing themselves as Republicans has gone down. But, the number of those describing themselves as conservatives has gone up. In fact conservatives are the largest ideological group in America. A recent Gallup poll shows that 40% of Americans consider themselves to be conservative. Moderates make up 35% and liberals only 21% of the American electorate. So, to be a majority conservatives only have to get 10% of voters to vote with them (less than 1/3rd of moderates). Not much moderation needed there.

Next Berkowitz asserts that Powell, though supporting liberal candidate Obama over moderate candidate McCain, should be listened to.
“Given his rejection last year of Republican John McCain, one of the Senate's most moderate members, and his endorsement of Democrat Barack Obama, one of the Senate's most progressive members, Powell may seem an unlikely source of counsel to Republicans on questions of moderation. His points, nonetheless, are well taken.”

If Powell has trouble identifying and supporting a conservative candidate for president, Berkowitz doesn't address why we should believe he is able to penetrate to the inner truths of conservative philosophy and find an important core missed by most everyone else.

But, along with the White Queen, let’s give trying to believe impossible things a whirl.
“Political moderation, which involves controlling passion so that reason can give proper weight to competing partisan claims, most of which contain some element of truth and some element of falsehood, is always valuable. In Cheney's and Limbaugh's repudiation of moderation one can hear echoes of Barry Goldwater's 1964 rallying cry: "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice .  .  . and . .  . moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.

“It is an inducement to moderation to recall that Goldwater's dramatic repudiation of moderation preceded one of the most lopsided drubbings in American presidential elections. At the same time, it is an inducement to moderation in praise of moderation to recognize that passion and partisanship have their place in democratic politics: Goldwater's 1964 defeat helped lay the groundwork for the Reagan Revolution which, in the 1980s, produced two, perhaps three, historic landslide victories.”

Got that? Being against moderation resulted in extreme political loss but then also resulted in extreme political victory. So, it is both bad and good at the same time. Here Berkowitz manages to toss in the wonderfully incomprehensible “it is an inducement to moderation in praise of moderation”. If you get what that means, you’re better than I am.

The entire review is pretty much phrased in these terms. Just when you think Berkowitz might be going to make an intelligible point, he dives back in to either hard to follow prose and logic or just plain contradictory assertions.

One somewhat funny and self-congratulatory paragraph is Berkowitz's put down of Levin (enthusiast) as compared with those involved in “dispassionate intellectual inquiry” at universities (Berkowitz).
"To be sure, there is a vital place in democratic politics for passionate partisans like Levin who rouse the base and adopt a take-no-prisoners approach to political argument. And better to have your enthusiasts on the airwaves where their principal job is to entertain than in the universities, which (officially, at least) remain devoted to dispassionate intellectual inquiry."

We all know how well conservatives like Berkowitz in the universities have done at winning converts among students and faculty--not to mention at the polls.

In this Berkowitz again inerringly chooses the already proven road to insignificance. Read it and weep that this is what some university conservatives are producing.

No comments: